Monday Scramble: More superlatives from Class of '11

By Will GrayOctober 19, 2015, 4:00 pm

Emiliano Grillo notches another win for the heralded Class of '11, Kevin Na goes down swinging, Rory McIlroy picks up his participation trophy and Lexi Thompson exacts some revenge, in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It wasn't pretty, but Grillo got the job done Sunday at the Open. Barely.

With the sun quickly setting in wine country, the Argentinian polished off Na in overtime to earn his maiden win in his first start as a PGA Tour member. Granted, he had the tournament on his putter blade minutes earlier only to gag away a 3-footer, a yank that was eerily similar to his short miss that would have won the Puerto Rico Open in March.

But while his first go-around ended in playoff defeat, this time Grillo bounced back for the win. Now he can book 2016 travel for Kapalua, Augusta National and Rio de Janeiro, where he will almost certainly represent Argentina at the Olympics next summer. 

The only rookie to win last season was Nick Taylor at the easily-forgotten Sanderson Farms Championship, but Grillo quickly put a stamp on the new campaign and cemented his status as the top rookie to watch. With his card already secure, he won two weeks ago at the Tour Championship, only to lament how long it had taken him to break through in the States. Now he's exempt through August 2018 and will be able to hand-pick his schedule next year as a member of the OWGR top 50.

At 23 years young, he's only getting started.

1. It looks like the (high school) class of 2011 might have a bit of a future. Led by Jordan Spieth and reigning Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger, the Tour's newest wave of talent includes a bunch of players born in 1993 (let that sink in for a bit). It also includes Grillo, an elder statesman from his graduating class, along with can't-miss prospects like Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Ollie Schneiderjans.

The group of rising stars are somewhat close-knit after years of competition against each other on the junior circuit, and Grillo's win was followed quickly by congratulatory tweets from Spieth and Thomas, among others. It won't be the last time the '11ers will have a chance to toast one of their own this season.

2. Hats off to Na, who took another runner-up finish in stride. Na's chances to win evaporated on the second extra hole, when his driver off the deck barely got off the ground. But in the moments after Grillo sank the winning putt, Na succinctly assessed the situation and deemed it poor execution of the proper shot.

"If I were to do it over again," Na said, "I'd still hit driver."

Na hasn't won since 2011, and this is his second playoff loss in the last 16 months. Despite the lack of hardware, he has maintained a regular spot inside the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 and has made the Tour Championship two years in a row. His name isn't often discussed among the Tour's most consistent players, but it should be.

3. It's tough to win on the PGA Tour ... perhaps not as tough as some of the contenders made it seem down the stretch in Napa. Maybe we've been spoiled by the closing ability of Spieth and Jason Day, but the final holes Sunday were filled with a bevy of missed putts and poor pitches.

Extra nerves from guys looking for their first win? Sure, but it was a grizzled veteran with two wins under his belt who offered up the worst shot of the day. Jason Bohn had the lead and less than 60 yards left for his approach to No. 16. He then chunked a wedge and barely got the ball halfway to the green. A potential birdie turned into a costly bogey, and Bohn missed the playoff by a shot when three closing pars would have gotten it done. Ouch.

4. For those scoring at home, Grillo now has a 200-point lead over Na in the season-long FedEx Cup race. The Tour won't turn away sponsors if they're willing to back seven-figure checks to tournament winners, but the saturation of the product still seems problematic. The shiny season-long trophy probably hasn't touched Spieth's mantle yet, and it's now once again up for grabs.

In a season that already lasts over 10 months, a little bit of a breather would go a long way. Oh well.

5. Rory McIlroy fulfilled his obligation this week in Napa, but he seemed very much like a man who showed up to punch a clock. With the Race to Dubai looming, McIlroy would not have played this week were he not required to because of his participation in a non-sanctioned event in Turkey three years ago. He even went as far as to say that given the choice, he would have been in Wales this weekend to watch Ireland play in the Rugby World Cup.

McIlroy's appearance certainly boosted ticket sales, and he left with a solid T-26 finish (and probably a few bottles of nice wine). But don't expect a return visit anytime soon. 

6. Somewhat lost amid the sudden-death finish, McIlroy's former Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose, quietly spit the bit in Napa. Rose made the turn Sunday at 14 under, and as it turned out he needed only to play the final nine in 1 under to make the playoff.

Instead, he came home in 2-over 38 to fall into a tie for sixth.

It's hardly a bad result, but it's another near-miss for Rose, whose stellar play over the last six months has been largely overshadowed by those barely ahead of him on the leaderboard. Since his win in New Orleans in April, Rose's PGA Tour record is as follows: 13 starts, 10 top-20s, seven top-sixes and a pair of runner-up finishes. But, alas, no trophies.

7. Beware the injured hospitalized golfer? Tyrone van Aswegen was barely able to stand up Sunday morning, and a quick trip to the E.R. ended with a diagnosis of vertigo and severe dehydration.

"I woke up and the room was spinning," the South African said. "I thought, 'Oh man, this is not good.'"

Van Aswegen was still in the hospital an hour before his scheduled starting time, but after a quick discharge he was able to make it to the first tee. He closed with a 68, including two birdies across his final three holes, to notch a career-best T-3 finish. Not bad for a guy who was fighting to earn his card just a couple weeks ago.

8. Speaking of which, it was an impressive debut for several graduates from the Tour Finals. In addition to Grillo and van Aswegen, Smylie Kaufman, Luke Guthrie, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Loupe all finished T-10 or better just two weeks after teeing it up in the Tour Championship.

It's never fun to go through the four-week gauntlet of Finals with only a few cards up for grabs, but those who advance are poised to carry that momentum right into the fall portion of the new season. 

9. Noted author and mental coach Bob Rotella once penned a book entitled, "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect." Well, Amy Yang took a shot at disproving that theory, closing her final round in South Korea with nine straight birdies to tie Beth Daniel's LPGA record.

"I don't know what just happened," Yang said afterward, seemingly taking a cue from Will Ferrell's character in "Old School."

Yang's back-nine performance was one to remember, and all the more impressive considering she didn't seem to have much going during the round after making the turn in 1-under 35. But when the putts start rolling in, the cup can seem like a bucket. At least, that's what I'm told.

10. Weeks after Lydia Ko chased her down at the Evian, Lexi Thompson got a bit of revenge by holding off the Kiwi sensation to win the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. It wasn't a major, but it was still a quality victory for Thompson, who now has a pair of LPGA trophies this year and helped the U.S. to a Solheim Cup win last month. 

Women's golf is always a better product when the stars perform to their abilities, and after a slow start to the year, Thompson has certainly held up her end of the bargain in recent months.

11. It's hard to believe that Yani Tseng hasn't won on the LPGA in nearly four years. While Tseng is still far from her former perch atop the Rolex Rankings, she continues to show flashes of form that indicate a win is near. The latest example came this week, when she earned her third runner-up of the year, and her third top-five finish in her last four starts.

After falling off the map, many were quick to label Tseng as one of the game's biggest and most curious busts. It's easy to forget that even now, she is only 26 with plenty of years ahead of her. If Tseng has the mental strength to remain on the comeback trail, it won't be long before she's back in the winner's circle - perhaps as soon as next week, when the LPGA heads to her native Taiwan.

12. You may not have noticed, but Matt Every withdrew during the second round at Silverado. It continues a troubling trend for the two-time API champ, who now has four mid-tournament withdrawals since June. And it's not just a nagging injury leading to these early exits - Every has previously cited neck, wrist and stomach ailments, although no reason was given for his most recent withdrawal.

Since a T-42 finish at The Players in May, the only time Every has played the weekend was at the no-cut WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he finished 74th in a 77-man field. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the form that led him to back-to-back wins at Bay Hill is nowhere to be found.

13. One day before notching his breakthrough win, Grillo nearly beaned McIlroy with a tee shot. McIlroy was standing near the green on the reachable par-4 17th, and Grillo took dead aim without realizing that the green hadn't cleared. The ball missed the oblivious Ulsterman's dome by mere inches.

If I were McIlroy, I might bring a batter's helmet with me to my next start. You know, just in case.

14. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 65 to rally for a three-shot win at the San Antonio Championship, his 25th victory against the over-50 crowd. Not much to add here, other than he is now T-3 on the tour's all-time victory list. Just four back of Lee Trevino ... and 20 shy of No. 1 Hale Irwin.

This week's WTH comes to you in two installments. First, we have Matt Kuchar in the wind-swept Fiji International, watching as his ball is magically blown into the hole for a weather-aided bogey:

Kuchar went on to win the event, but the question remains: why in the world was Kuchar playing in Fiji? Sure, he was already in that neck of the woods after last week's Presidents Cup, and he probably had a few rea$ons for teeing it up in the OneAsia Tour event. But combined with an appearance in Mexico at next week's America's Golf Cup, Kuchar will play three straight weeks in three different foreign countries - certainly an unconventional approach to the offseason.

Next, we have the sad fate of Alvaro Quiros, whose tap-in at the Portugal Masters did not go as planned:

I mean, come on. That's just mean.

This week's award winners ...

The Space Man Strikes Again: Andy Sullivan continued his breakthrough season, winning in a nine-shot romp in Portugal to become the first three-time winner this year on the European Tour.

Sullivan may be best known to American fans as the guy who won a trip to space thanks to an ace at last year's KLM Open - a prize he doesn't plan on redeeming anytime soon, by the way - but he is now a player to watch thanks to his on-course performance.

The Englishman started the year ranked No. 150 in the world and is now inside the top 50, hallowed ground that brings with it an opportunity to customize a schedule of elite events - starting with next month's WGC-HSBC Champions. When he contended at the Memorial this summer, Sullivan said he would welcome the opportunity to play more in America.

If he keeps this up, he just might get his wish.

Stick Around For Closest-to-the-Pin Prizes: It seemed odd at the time, but kudos to the European Tour for thinking outside the box and going with a shotgun start during the third round of the Portugal Masters. With heavy rains in the forecast, officials sent everyone out at 8 a.m. local time, with the leaders off No. 1 tee. The result? The round was completed before the rains hit, and the tournament got in 72 holes as expected.

But after weather shortened last year's affair to only 36 holes, perhaps it's time to look for a new date (or venue?) for this event before it gets washed off the schedule.

Give Her All the Scrabble Points: The season-ending Symetra Tour Championship was won by, wait for it, Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong. Aside from the fact that it would violate the letter-usage rules of Scrabble, her surname would be worth 35 points. 

This Doesn't Make Much Sense: Charl Schwartzel finished T-6 at, but it would have been an even better result were it not for an eyeroll-inducing rules violation before Thursday's opening round.

As Schwartzel explained it, he thought his tee time was 12:45 p.m. local time when it was actually 12:40. After rushing to the tee, he made it to the edge of the scoring area as the starter was introducing playing partner Steven Bowditch. Schwartzel was hitting third in the group so he thought he was in the clear, but as it turns out the rule stipulates he had to be on the teeing ground before the starter began any of his player introductions. 

The error cost Schwartzel two shots before his tournament even began, and it showed yet again that golf has some seriously dumb rules.

Next Time, Just Call Uber: When we last heard from Will Wilcox, he was withdrawing from the Deutsche Bank Championship after injuring his knee getting into his courtesy car. This week, his loaner was broken into before the tournament started, with the thieves absconding with some new golf shoes among other items.

Wilcox finished T-10 despite a final-round 73, but he may be well-served to leave his tournament transportation in the hands of someone else this season.

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

Getty Images

Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.